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Owning Your Judaism

09/25/2019 03:53:35 PM


I’ve come to be called Rabbi K out of necessity. If it was up to me, I’d just be called Hillel; but I must acknowledge the situations and religious functions where the title is appropriate. So naturally I’d concede to Rabbi Hillel. But at B’nai Torah, a rabbi’s first name (Hillel) is easily misread and misheard as a rabbi’s last name (Heller), thus I became Rabbi LastName. And since my last name is only spelled correctly 75% of the time, and since I’d want to get all my email, Rabbi K was established. However, if I wrote the rules, I would prefer just being Hillel, with no formal title, and no distinction between me or the next guy. After all, a rabbi doesn’t have more of a religious connection to God, and in Judaism, the laws relating to rabbis are the same laws that apply to everyone else. In such a way, it is not Rabbi K who keeps kosher, but simply just Hillel.

In Parshat Nitzavim, the Torah anticipates the protest to such a stance. Aware of people’s reliance on experts and their knowledge, the text cautions against outsourcing your religious observance to others. Moses declares: “Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens that you should say ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, so that we may observe it’” (Deuteronomy 30:11-12). According to this parsha, the Torah and its teachings are every person’s inheritance, and ought to be accessible for any who would reach out to take ahold of them. Unlike the priesthood which is passed through genealogies, knowledge of and participation in the Jewish tradition is open to all Jews. Granted I studied in seminary for five years, but that doesn’t demark a status differential under the law between me and other Jews.

As we gear up for the High Holidays reflecting on the past year, and the opportunities in the year ahead, perhaps we can reaffirm out commitment to owning our Jewish heritage. More than knowing that we have a voice at the table, we have a responsibility to speak up for ourselves, and not let others do the talking for us. We have the duty to reflect on our Jewish heritage and engage with the pages that document the religious conversation throughout Jewish history. For Torah isn’t only found in the shabbat shalom articles of rabbis, but also found “very close to you, in your mouth and in your hearts to observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:14).

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah

Mon, December 4 2023 21 Kislev 5784